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DPI “mini-grants” fund is a taxpayer puppet show

MADISON — Nothing says “Just Say No” like a puppet show. 

Be Free Puppetry, a Chippewa Falls program that teaches kids about the perils of alcohol, nicotine and drugs — through puppets — has received a $1,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.  

It’s all part of DPI’s Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA) Student Mini-Grant Program that has been handing out taxpayer cash for more than 30 years. DPI recently awarded more than $72,000 for 78 projects. The Department of Health Services chipped in $6,850 for the grant awards. Last year, DPI awarded 75 grants, totaling $68,000. 

The funds are available on a competitive basis for schools to support education, prevention and intervention programs. The information campaigns are designed by students and target youth risk behaviors — from smoking to drunk driving and suicide. 

While the intention to save young lives is laudable, the taxpayer-funded grant program begs an important question: Do puppets save lives? 

As the Chippewa Herald reports, a group of fifth-graders at each of the city’s six elementary schools produces a puppet show on the dangers of abusing alcohol, nicotine and other drugs. It’s generally a three-performance production — two shows for students and staff, and an evening show for community members.  

This year the $1,000 grant will be used to help seventh-graders at Chippewa Falls Middle School update a video that helps guide the fifth-graders in producing the puppet production, the newspaper reported. 

A local official told the newspaper the grant was important to update content. Apparently it was time to breathe some new life into middle school-produced puppet show videos. 

It’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of an $82 billion biennial budget, but the funding promotes some programs that would raise questions from taxpayers. Like the Waterloo School District’s Gender Sexuality Alliance, which received a $900 grant. 

DPI notes that consideration is given based on the “educational value” of projects and “statewide geographic distribution of funds.”

No word on whether the puppets work on union scale.  

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